Sunday, February 28, 2010

Listen up ya'll!

My friend and fabulous critique partner Stephanie Theban has finally joined the cyberworld and started a blog! Stephanie is active in her local Kansas City SCBWI chapter and has learned a lot about writing for children from the many different workshops and conferences she's been to. Since she attended Bonnie Bader's Pitch-a-thon she's decided to share her skills and giveaway some crits on pitches at her newly opened Tiki Bar. Go pick your drink and enter up!

Another thing. I just discovered Weronica Janczuk's blog. There's a lot to know about her and I'm, um, supposed to be revising right now so you'll just have to hop over and check her place out. I will tell she's young and brilliant! Weronica posts all sorts of great info, especially for the YA writer, plus she's offering a query + 10 pages critique to everyone that enters. I almost feel guilty for blogging about it, she's going to be so busy.

So that's two more people to add to the list of generous kidlit writers!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

School Visit?

The elementary school in town is trying to set up an author visit by a big name author thanks to me and my big mouth. I pointed out she would be in the area and things kind of took off from there. This author writes books for older kids so it would be for maybe the fourth through sixth graders.

If the older kids get an author visit then the younger kids need to get one too. It's only fair. I suggested a few authors who I know live relatively close. But close isn't too close. We're kind of far away from everything around here, plus you never know if an author is going to be able to come or if the school, whose budget is around zilch, will be able to afford them.

So there I am, the local children's book author who is at the school every day dropping off my kids. The unofficial liaison between the public library and the school. The honorary committee member who was asked to come to the school staff meeting this morning to discuss author visits. And I kinda sorta said that maybe *gulp* I could someday do an assembly for the little kids.

In my defense it was early in the morning and I am know to do or say any number of fascinatingly ridiculous things in the early hours.

By some sort of coincidence there's been two links pointed out to me today via Twitter that have to do with school visits. I'm worried it may be some sort of sign. But, they're really good links! I wanted to share them with any of you that do school visits or may...someday.

There's a great blog post about what and what not to do during school visits:BookMoot: Advice for Authors on School Visits

There's also this Writers in Schools PDF created by the Primary English Teaching Association.

As for me, we shall wait and see.

Sunday, February 21, 2010


So, I just thoroughly went through my first and second chapter critiques from my fabulous critique partners The things they point out just really blow my mind. They get me thinking so much more deeply about my novel it's incredible.

Think about the way your character sees the world. Would she really use this word?
Add a small hint here so we get an inkling that the main character's troubles might be even bigger than this.
Why isn't she more emotional about this?
Why does she wonder that? We need to see more introspection.

And so much more advice like that.

Yes, it would be great if I could see all the little problems with my writing myself. I know these pages aren't ready by any means but, sweet mother of highlighters. I see a lot more things I need to revise now that I've gotten my critique partner's opinions than when I was just marking up the manuscript myself. I've written so many notes on my pages, they're full of lines and circles and different colored scribbles. It's a lovely, gigantic mess.

It should be quite daunting, and it is, except for the fact that they said some really good things that make me know I have to keep going. I mean, I've practically begged them to tell me the thing sucks so I can just go back to my nice, happy picture book writing. But I will go on. Revise the heck out of these chapters, then go back for more. Watch out chapter three and four. I'm coming for you.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

The Unread - Interview with Karen Akins

Karen Akins does a lot of her writing while her little one is asleep. I think a lot of us moms can relate to sneaking writing time in whenever we can, so I asked Karen if she'd be my guest for this month's Unread. I'm all for spreading the mommy writer love! Karen writes kidlit in Northwest Arkansas where she lives with her husband, son, a.k.a The Pea, and one mischevious dog. She holds a M.S. in Marriage and Family Therapy from John Brown University and is a member of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators. She also runs a great blog called Novels During Naptime. How appropriate!

Finding time to write can be hard to do, especially when you have small children. How do you manage to sneak in the time?

You know those women who pop out of bed before the rooster and squeeze two hours of writing in before their children wake up? I am not one of them. Night Karen holds way too much power, so that’s when I get the majority of my writing done—after the Pea goes to bed. But I think you hit the nail on the head about “sneaking” in time to write. I keep a notebook handy to jot down ideas, snippets of dialogue, a few sentences here and there. It adds up.

(I'm not sure those women who get up and write in the morning before the children get up exist. If they do, they have super powers and I want some. -H)

How does your family feel about your writing?

I could not have asked for a more supportive husband. He also pushes me to make the most of my time and take risks. And all he asks in return is that I write the next Twilight. The Pea…well, the Pea is a toddler (i.e. a benevolent dictator), so his mind is tied up with more important things right now. Like how many goldfish crackers he can feed the dog before mommy catches him and how many times in a row he can talk me into reading his current favorite book. (“Llama! Llama!” The current record is 4.)

(Go Pea!)

When did you start writing? Is there a reason you did?

This is a tough question. I’ve always been a storyteller by nature, whether it was with my dolls, skits with friends, or making up vignettes in my own mind. In middle school, I cranked out a few half-hearted picture books so I could get out of school for the day and attend the local young writers’ conference. (The keynote speakers were S.E. Hinton and Judith Viorst. Yes, you read that right. Yes, I regret my lack of note-taking.) But I didn’t have any real writing aspirations until after I graduated college. I scribbled some plot notes and a few scenes for a couple picture books and a novel, then tucked them away in a box.

Flash forward ten years. After the Pea was born, I started reading more picture books. It reawakened a passion for children’s literature, and I wrote a few (looking back…plotless, horrible, near-rhyming) picture books. I went online and every reputable website pointed me towards SCBWI. I’m a cheapskate frugal so rather than just join, I entered their writing contest to win a membership. And I did! With four words. The contest was to summarize a classic children’s book in four words. Mine was “Corduroy: Obsessive Bear Seeks Closure”.

And I’ve been writing consistently ever since.

What keeps you going?

My faith, my family, my friends. And feedback (I promise I did not plan those f’s).

(Freakin' fabulous!)

What types of stories do you write? Care to tell us what you’re working on now?

Hubbykins is in marketing, so he’s always reminding me to “brand myself”, but my imagination isn’t very cooperative in being confined to one genre. I write quirky, humorous picture books with twist endings. I also write humorous chick lit. Humor. I like humor.

Most of my picture books feature objects or animals acting in ways they shouldn’t. I have one particularly feisty sheep who’s been playing the kazoo in one of my current WIPs.

How do you find that belonging to a critique group helps you?

The better question would be, “How did I ever manage without my critique group?” They are my cheerleaders, editors, taskmasters, muses.

(You're right. That's a much better question! I don't know how I ever managed without mine either.)

What part of writing do you enjoy most?

The initial rush of creativity that comes with a new idea. I imagine that’s what a runner’s high must feel like. (This is sheer conjecture as I haven’t run a full mile since the Presidential Fitness Test in sixth grade.)

(Ew. The Presidential Fitness exam was the bain of my elementary school existence. That and the kid that picked his nose constantly.)

What are your writing goals and what have you done to further them?

My top goal as a writer is to glorify God through my work. That being said, my writing doesn’t fall under the specific sub-genre of “Christian fiction” though I hope the reader would find themes of my faith (forgiveness, redemption, joy, etc.) woven throughout. And, of course, an ongoing goal is skill improvement. There are so many aspects of the publishing business that are out of my control. But I can control how many conferences I attend, how much time I spend writing (okay, the Pea has a say in that as well), and how often I submit my stories.

(I should have asked you about submitting too! It's a whole 'nother challenge on the mommy front. It's hard to find time for everything.)

How far would you go to get your book published?

You’re asking this of the girl who once ate a carrot out of a kid’s nose in an attempt to get a laugh out of him. Granted, I was a camp counselor and getting paid the big bucks to do such things…something like 17 cents an hour.

But, hmmmm. I’m open to suggestions.

(Eating a carrot out of a kid's nose should definitely be far enough! Where's that contract already? What? They don't give publishing contracts for eating things out of people's noses? Darn. I'll cross that one off my list.)

And here’s what I really want to know, if you could live in any book which one would it be and why?

***not skipping a beat*** Anne of Green Gables. Hubbykins took me on a dream trip to Prince Edward Island a few years ago, and even he was taken in by the Island’s charms. It would be a step back to simpler times, but not so far back as to not have access to important things like raspberry cordial and syrup of ipecac.

Runner up: Would love to hang out at Hogwarts except I know the Sorting Hat would stick me in Hufflepuff. And nothing interesting ever seems to happen in that house.

(Ha! Just realized I gave the exact same answers as Deb Marshall.)

(Ding ding ding! We have made a reading match!)

You can read more from Karen at her great blog: Novels Durning Naptime. You can also find her on Twitter where she goes by the handle naptimewriter.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Heads up -- Enter to Win a YA or MG Critique!

There's a great contest going on over at Chuck Sambuchino's Guide to Literary Agents blog and this one is especially for middle grade and young adult writers. It's easy to enter. You just need to send the first 150 - 200 words of your novel and do a couple other things, like share the contest on your facebook or twitter. The Guide to Literary Agents blog is definitely the blog I use the most and I've learned a ton from reading the posts there. Even if you're not into entering the contest, it's a great place to learn about new agents, what specific agents are looking for, how different authors connected with their agents, and more.

Anyhow, before I get too mushy about my mad love for this blog, you probably want to know what you can win. There's a first place 25 page critique by Andrea Brown Literary Agent, Jennifer Laughran plus two Writer's Digest books and there's a second and third place prize of a ten page critique plus one book. Freaking awesome, huh?

I'm getting my entry ready right now and I thought maybe a few of you readers of my blog might be interested in entering too. You have until Sunday, February 21st to enter. Let me know if you do. We can wait together!

Bonus from entering the contest: I now have a logline. Woot!

Monday, February 15, 2010


Since I've never subbed a novel before I haven't had to write a synopsis. With my YA making it's way into the home stretch I decided that I'm going to apply for the SCBWI work in progress grant this year. They want a 750 word synopsis along with around the 2500 first words of the novel. Knowing what my story is about I figured writing the synopsis would be easy. Silly me.

I started last night and so far I've written four pages of synopsis type stuff also known as drivel. I know the characters, the emotions, the theme, the plot twists, even the ending for crying out loud. Somehow I can't find the perfect words I want to use to describe this story.

Maybe I'm being too picky. I've read some good synopsis. Synopsi? Synopsises?--even spelling it is hard. Maybe it's a sign. Anyway, I know I just need to tell it straightforward. The beginning, middle, and end. I know, this is oversimplifying it, but really, that's what I need. I'd talk more about it but I think I'll go work on this thing some more instead. I'm starting to feel a little silly walking around everywhere I go with this huge stack of papers writing things down and making no progress. Okay, not really. I do that all the time. I just really want to get it done!

Any of you applying for an SCBWI grant?

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Interview with Susan Marlow, author of the Circle C Adventure series

Susan K. Marlow has found a way to combine three things she loves: horses, adventure, and writing. She's the author of the Circle C Adventure series published by Kregel Publications. Susan has frolicked by to talk about writing series, book promotion, and her latest Circle C Adventure, TROUBLE WITH TREASURE. You can learn all about Susan's main character, Andi, at Susan's great Circle C Adventures website. But don't leave here before entering Susan's giveaway! Details are at the end of the interview. There's real gold involved!

First, I have some questions for Susan along with a big CONGRATULATIONS on the new book release! Hooray! Now, my daughter and I are dying to know, what sort of adventure is Andi going to have in her new book, Trouble With Treasure?

Well, right off the bat, through no fault of her own (for once), Andi ends up in jail! A little horseplay with a leaky water trough in town brings the unfriendly new deputy swooping down on Andi and her friends. She’s hoping a two-week trek into the Sierras to pan for gold will put all her troubles behind her. But Andi and her friends are so wrong. They tangle with a rattlesnake, a couple of “two-legged” snakes, and a seriously injured brother. Toss in a couple of bags of bank gold and being stranded in the wilderness, and that spells “trouble” in a big way.

Where did you get the idea for this story?

I originally wrote the basic story years ago, and it looked much different from what it is today. I wanted a story that highlighted Andi and the youngest of her older brothers, Mitch, who hadn’t been in the other books much. I wanted Andi to be stuck alone in the wilderness and responsible for saving her brother’s life. But it was just Andi and Mitch, and it didn’t work so well, especially when Mitch was unconscious a good deal of the time (it cuts into your dialogue opportunities). So I rewrote it to include Andi’s friend Jenny (from Book 4) and her good pal, Cory, and expanded the story into a couple of different directions.

When you sold your first Circle C Adventure, Andrea Carter and the Long Ride Home, you didn’t know it would become a series. How difficult was it to develop more stories for Andi?

I didn’t know it would become a series, but I was sure hoping it would. I had the first three stories already written (though I’d call them very rough drafts now). It wasn’t difficult to revise and submit those. But book 4 was totally new material, and it was tough filling in the blanks and making the story “work.” I wanted a story set in San Francisco for Book 4, but what in the world was going on in that city in 1881? So it took a lot of time to do the research and weave that research seamlessly into the book.

How did you learn to write series?

By watching TV during the 60s, mostly. Television shows are basically “series,” where your favorite characters have complete, new adventures every week. Without realizing it then, I fashioned my stories after shows like Star Trek. I knew there was a “teaser” opener (to keep people from changing the channel), scenes that always ended on a cliff hanger (to keep people from changing the channel), the “dark moment” or climax, and the satisfying ending. I knew and expected certain things from the characters. They interacted in a fun way. They never acted out of character. They evoked an emotional response in an impressionable young teen, and I made sure my first stories did the same thing. I guess I learned from observing.

Do you have any tips for aspiring series writers?

I believe that the most important element in a series is an engaging, likeable main character with whom young readers can identify. One young fan recently wrote me a letter and said, “Sometimes I pretend I’m Andi, riding and talking to Taffy.” Obviously, this young reader has connected with the main character. For her, it probably doesn’t matter what kind of adventure Andi and her horse have, so long as Andi invites the reader to become part of the story with her. It’s the character whom readers want to follow along on the journey. So make the development of your series’ “star” your most important consideration when thinking about writing a series.

You are an amazing book promoter. What are you doing to promote Trouble with Treasure?

You mean besides chatting with you and your readers? *grin* I have my usual bookmarks, postcard mailings, and Ezine campaigns. I have a growing fan list on the Circle C Adventures fan page on Facebook. I give away a lot of books through contests and sites on the web. I speak at Young Author conferences and do some school visits. And this year I’ve decided to have a booth at various homeschool conventions on the West coast.

I send out books for reviewers to review, and I created a book trailer, which I posted on Facebook. Then I asked a number of FB friends to “share” it on their profiles. This way my books and my name keep popping up, a little at a time. Unfortunately, this takes a lot of time, and it keeps me from writing.

How important do you think it is that authors promote their books?

Very important! On a scale from 1 – 10, the importance of partnering with your publisher to promote your books is probably a 9.5. I honestly believe that the reason I have six books in my serious (as opposed to two or maybe three) is because I have spent a significant amount of time (and money) getting the word out. The good news: it really does help. The bad news: it never ends. You can never stop, because once you stop promoting your book, people forget about it. The nice thing with a series is that a new book automatically promotes the other books in the series. This keeps what would ordinarily be a five-year-old back-listed book fresh for new readers.

What is one of the most fun things you’ve done to go along with your books?

I like doing contests on line and at conferences. I put a bunch of little plastic horses in a big jar and have a Guess the Number of Horses contest. The winner receives a Beanie Baby horse keychain, some real gold, a Chinese doll, or even a book, depending on which book I’m promoting at the time. The other fun thing is tying up a “set” of books with colored elastic string, along with a plastic horse, and selling them at a discount. They sell like hotcakes and they look so cute!

You say you’re a shy person, yet you do quite a bit of public speaking, from teaching kids to talking at author events to radio interviews. How have you learned to do public speaking?

Being a teacher and loving kids has been a “key” to making it through public-speaking venues. I’m comfortable around kids (my peer group) so of course school visits and writing workshops are my favorite kinds of events. For big groups (like school assemblies) I have found that a well-crafted PowerPoint presentation saves the day every time. It can be shortened or lengthened right at the time, depending on interest level and/or time available. Holding the remote is like clutching a security blanket. But outside the kid audience, I’m afraid I’m hopeless. The way I have learned to “do” public speaking in those cases (speaking to adults and doing radio) is by plunging ahead and saying, “Yes, I’ll do it,” and then taking a step of faith that God will see me through as long as I’m prepared. It’s totally nerve-wracking, and I don’t like it, but so far, God has seen me through.

Will we be seeing any more of Andi after Trouble with Treasure?

Oh, yes! Andi has one more adventure in this series, Andrea Carter and the Price of Truth. A quick blurb: Andi’s eyewitness testimony places a beloved citizen at the scene of a crime. Will the price of telling the truth be too high if it means losing Taffy forever? But Andi and Taffy’s adventures are not over. I’m writing a series of chapter books for young readers (grades 1-3) about Andi and Taffy when they were young. Those books should hit the market a year or so from now.

I’d ask you what book you would live in if you could, but I imagine you’d be right in there with Andi, or cruising outer space with the Star Trek crew. Am I totally wrong?

Heather, you know me too well! To be honest, I can’t decide which world I’d rather live in: the Old West or aboard the starship Enterprise. Either one is a journey of imagination that “. . . boldly goes where no [kid] has gone before.”

Susan is going to giveaway an autographed and personalized copy of Trouble with Treasure to one lucky winner. Plus she's throwing in a vial of real gold! What do you have to do to win? Just leave a comment on this here interview. If you tweet, blog, or facebook the contest and let me know I'll add another entry. U.S. residents only. Contest ends February 16th at midnight. Good luck!

Saturday, February 6, 2010


I've been thinking a lot about my characters in my novel lately. I know what they look like in my mind and there are some certain things readers need to know about them. The main character is pretty but likes to hide herself in an unkempt exterior. The skater wears holey jeans and is buffed somewhere under those baggy clothes. The football player can barely fit his legs under the dinky school desk.

But there's this fine line. I want readers to fill in the way the characters look in their imaginations. (I know, this is assuming there will be readers. Humor me.) I'm not sure I want to mention what shade their hair is, the color of their eyes, or even the tone of their skin. These characters could be any kids at any school. Maybe you know someone like them or maybe they're doing things you don't even realize people their age do. Either way, I want readers to see these characters as people they would know. Their colors don't really matter.

Yet, books need description. Readers need to be able to see these characters clearly. I'm a little torn on how far I'll go in describing the ways my characters look. Hopefully I can give enough description so readers can see them, but not so much that I overpower the reader's imaginations. I'm sure I'll be putting descriptions in, and taking them out, and putting them in, and taking them out...hopefully I'll be able to find a balance that is just right.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Illustrator of the Month--Craig Stapley

Graphic Designer by day, Illustrator by night—sounds like some sort of artistic superhero, doesn’t he? But who needs to be a superhero when you have the talent like Craig Stapley.

Craig is an artist living in Northern Utah where he loves playing in the snow with his wife and three boys. He says even though sleep is more of luxury now, he loves where he is and what he does; “illustration and design is an amazing way to express one self. Art has the power to motivate, inspire and unify. I am truly blessed to have the opportunities I have.”

Craig’s favorite color is rainbow. His favorite food is not very healthy. His hobby is work. Sounds like a true artist to me. I’m happy to introduce Craig as my featured illustrator this month. He's frolicked by to answer some questions about his work.

Craig, when did you decide you wanted to be an illustrator?

I don't think that it was really a conscience decision. It really has been a gradual evolution of my career. When I was a kid I was always fascinated by art. I didn’t differentiate between the various artistic disciplines I just grouped it all into “Art”. I was good at it. It made me happy, challenged me and gave me purpose. Illustration was the result of a natural artistic progression.

You have an illustration company, what kinds of work have you done?

My company, Stapley Illustration, has gone through it’s own evolution of sorts. Over the years I have dabbled in many different areas including medical illustration, political cartooning, architectural art, portraiture, renderings and of course books and magazines. Gradually I am narrowing my focus to my passion, children’s illustration, and cutting out all the other stuff.

© Craig Stapley

Recently (within the past three years) I have been working for larger and larger publications such as the Children’s Friend and Liahona Magazines. In October of last year I got my first magazine cover illustration for the Friend and that has led to other opportunities such as a commission for Highlights Magazine.

Is there an illustration style that you enjoy most?

My illustration style is always refining and evolving though I do have a goal that I strive to accomplish in everything I do. That is creating life. That may sound very general, but to me it means creating characters that are honest and relate with the viewer. I want my illustrations to be more than a snapshot, I want them to tell a story with expression, color and movement.

© Craig Stapley

Have you had any artistic training?

Yes, sort of. I have a degree in graphic design from Utah State University. Now do I think that has helped me? Not really. Most of my training is trial and error (often more error than trial). All through high school and college I was doing freelance illustration and would often use these paying projects for my assignments as well. I do think that college was useful for building a base on which to build but the majority of my illustration growth is through practical use and studying everything around me.

© Craig Stapley

What is your favorite medium to work in?

Pencil. I love to draw. Today 90% of my work is created digitally. I usually start off drawing and sketching. I then transfer that to the computer and start adding color and texture. I find that the computer affords me more control over the finished piece. I use a Wacom tablet that lets me control many of the same elements you get from traditional painting such as opacity, stroke size and brush. The best part is that clean up is much easier.

Are there any artists whose work inspires you?

Tons! Perhaps my favorite is Norman Rockwell. I remember I had a class in college about art theory and we had an assignment to choose an artist and analyze their work and break down the different artistic elements that made it successful. Everyone else was choosing post-modern and abstract art. I chose Rockwell. I ended up with a C- on the assignment choosing a more conservative artist. I thought that he was a master of color, expression and visual direction; apparently the instructor though different.

I am also a huge fan of Jim Madsen and Dani Jones. Jim for his people and Dani for her use of texture and color.

© Craig Stapley

What are you doing to get your work noticed by publishers?

For years I have been sending out promotional postcards, emails and samples to publishers all over the world. Sometimes all it takes is persistence. Too often I think illustrators get discouraged when they don't see immediate results. I thrive on that. Sometimes I think I love promoting my work more than doing the work itself. I am fascinated by the publishing industry.

© Craig Stapley

You’re doing a piece for Highlights. What can you tell us about that?

I could tell you but then I would have to kill you. No, really. Kidding... I have been sending various promotional pieces to Highlights for a little over 10 years now. Recently they contacted me to do an inside spread titled “Christmas in July”. I was excited and thrilled that they would choose me. Apparently, they liked the sketches I sent them for the piece because last week they contracted me to create another inside spread. So things are looking up. I am very excited.

Congratulations Craig! And thank you for being my Illustrator of the Month.

Honestly people, Craig has one of the best websites I've ever seen. If you haven't had a look, go take a peek:

You can also check out his graphic design site at